Santa Clara County expands mobile mental health unit in West Valley – The Mercury News

The West Valley is getting more dedicated mental health specialists to help with crisis response and de-escalation.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted Feb. 8 to expand the county’s Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) program in the West Foothills and North County.

The program, which started in 2018, unites specialized clinicians with law enforcement to respond to people who may be having a mental health crisis. It aims to de-escalate situations and connect individuals with counseling, a respite program, mediation or a sobering center instead of an emergency department or jail.

Allocating more staff members to this region will allow the teams to get to people in crisis faster, said Supervisor Joe Simitian, who represents the North County and West Valley.

“We’re talking about moments of crisis when minutes can matter. If somebody’s literally an hour or two away, depending on traffic and the time of the day, that can have really serious consequence,” Simitian said in an interview.

The county added four staff members to cover District 5, which includes Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Cupertino, Saratoga, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View and the Almaden Valley in San Jose. These new positions are scheduled to be filled by summer.

Most calls involve someone having a “dangerous mental health crisis,” a psychiatric episode or another situation that needs de-escalation, the county said in the press release.

Adding more staff members to MCRT teams is meant to expedite deployment and response time, which can be crucial for someone experiencing a mental health emergency, County Behavioral Health Services Director Sherri Terao said.

Simitian said the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the number of people requiring mental health services, while simultaneously making it harder to access them.

The demand for the program’s services has spiked in the last two years. MCRT visits have more than doubled from 414 in 2019 to 1,828 in 2021 across the county, and the number of calls made to the center have increased from 1,072 to nearly 5,100 last year.

“The demand for these services has just gone through the roof,” Simitian said. “It’s really disconcerting, but it’s also undeniable; the number of folks that call needing help just goes up and up and up. There’s no question that there’s a greater need.

“The need has perhaps never been greater at exactly a time when it’s tougher and tougher to access services, which is why the fact that these are mobile teams is so important, and why its so important that they can be at a scene in a matter of moments,” he added.

Federal grant funding will be utilized to ramp up support services for calls that don’t require law enforcement, and to incorporate more mobile services for children, youth families and older adults.

Residents can call the MCRT at 1-800-704-0900 and select option 2. Staff is available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. A clinician is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to connect individuals to appropriate services.

The program first worked with local police to respond more effectively to mental-health emergencies before it expanded to cover reports made by the public.

“I think there is a growing awareness and support for trying to find alternatives to traditional law enforcement responses in these mental health emergency situations,” Simitian said. “I think that’s a very healthy development. We ask a lot of law enforcement; expecting them to be trained mental health clinicians is an unreasonable expectation. You want to have the right response in the moment, and that’s what these teams do.”

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